Building pasture knowledge

16 November 2017

Demonstrating the impact highly productive pastures can have on lifting enterprise returns is the focus of a new MLA-funded Producer Demonstration Site (PDS) project in northern Tasmania.

Supported by a producer-led steering committee, five major demonstrations on three farms have been established to run until 2020.

The project is a collaboration between MLA, Tamar Valley Farmers Group, Tamar Natural Resource Management (NRM) group, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (Tamar Valley Branch), East Tamar Landcare Group and Blessington Community Group and is supported by researchers from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture.

Uniting farming communities

Tamar NRM Program Coordinator Greg Lundstrom said getting a wide cross-section of the farming community on board highlighted the value of learnings at a local level when trying to manage sub-optimal pastures and variable rainfall.

"This project will target the group of producers with sub-optimal pastures who can witness first-hand the trial sites, be shown the benefit analysis and be able to interact with fellow producers,” he said.

"By introducing new pasture species and cultivars, paying attention to soils and improving grazing management, we can demonstrate that participating producers will significantly increase profitability in their section of the supply chain.

Winter proves a challenge

Ben and Louisa Hooper farm at Beaconsfield and are seeking options for better adapted, persistent and productive pastures that can cope with adverse seasonal conditions.

The pair run 2,100 ewes and lambs on 460ha with a focus fertility and growth for production of highly productive composite females.

Their pastures are predominantly annual ryegrass and clovers on low-fertility hydrosol and podzol soil types that can suffer waterlogging.

“Our biggest challenge is that pasture growth slows right down during winter because of the cold and excessively wet conditions,” Ben said.

“It can get as low as 5–10kg of dry matter (DM)/day, compared to about 30–40kg DM/day in spring, and we need to really carefully feed budget during the winter months when we experience this feed gap.”

To address this, the Hoopers run only breeding stock on the property from June–September – turning all surplus lambs off in autumn – and rotationally graze areas ranging from 2–24ha on 50–60 day regimes to stretch-out available feed.

Ben said the aim is to reach a dry sheep equivalent of 1.4 ewes joined/ha/100mm of rainfall from the current 0.7 ewes joined.

“But the trade-off could be that ewes can lose condition score in some years, which is not ideal,” he said.

“We need to prove new pasture species options and investigate better grazing management to help fill the feed gap cost efficiently, lift stocking rates and boost productivity by at least 20% in the medium-term.”

The Hoopers are hosting a PDS site as part of the project. It will compare feed production and animal performance on 35 hectares sown to a mix of perennial ryegrass (Jackaroo), panic grass (MegaMax™) and cocksfoot.

“We want to demonstrate to local producers that improved pasture species and best management practice will work for their grazing enterprise and pay good dividends,” Ben said.

More information

Greg Lundstrom, Tamar NRM
T: 0438 642 112

Michael Crowley, MLA

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